Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is traditional culture losing grip?

Throughout history, an innumerable number of cultures have vanished from the surface of our planet and very few of these can brag about their traditions still being around and kicking. To this day, the longevity of ancestral customs is generally praised as a positive thing and mostly considered a sign of national intellectual wealth. Why is the observance of old traditions usually seen positively?

Perhaps do we tend to perceive this lastingness as the obvious result of an ever-increasing pool of accumulated wisdom to which succeeding generations must have gradually contributed over the ages. For example, acupuncturists are often proud to claim that their methods were intuitively developed millennia ago. Do they often realize how little scientific credibility this contributes to their field of work? The survival of old ideas is more than often seen as a sign that these are good ideas; is this a reliable way to evaluate their worth? We ought not to let our intuitions fool us so easily. The reasons why traditions survive are not so often linked to the gift of free inquiry. In most cases, they do so at the expense of other ethnic traditions and because of this simple fact, those that endure the test of time rarely turn out to be the most peaceful. Strangely enough, questioning the pertinence of keeping such ideas alive seems scandalous to a lot of otherwise reasonable people...

All ideas are not born equal and when it comes to traditions, a problem is arising. We will have to face it eventually and one would need to be quite stubborn to deny it at this point in history: Different cultures hold to ancient beliefs often so contradictory that they cancel each other out. In each of these cases, they cannot logically both claim to be right without some serious explaining to do first; nevertheless, they just childishly insist that they are. This leads to conflicts that can span over generations. Eventually, people find themselves fighting over issues that have, over time, become devoid of any of their initial value. The only motive left to fight over such outdated views can be nothing else than vengeance; grief created by so much reciprocal violence. In fact, it was a lot easier to keep these "family" conflicts alive when access to information was limited and tightly controllable. When confronted with conflicting ideas, in an age of globalization and growing access to knowledge, does grasping to obscure claims made by forefathers make much sense anymore..?

There are more and more people today who show no interest in being forced to procreate within a pre-established gene pool dictated by ancestors who did not know any better. In fact, if things keep going as they are, we can rightfully question what the word "culture" will mean a few generations from now. Unless we screw up with net neutrality, not so far in the future, global Internet access will have shaped our children's world view to such an extent that, as far as local cultural background is concerned, geographical frontiers will be mostly irrelevant. How will we then be supposed to determine which of all these contradictory sources of ancestral "wisdom" were worth listening to? Should we not all have been able to actively question our parents' teachings in the first place? Couldn't we have held a conversation that would have enriched us both? Well before the end of this present century, globalization will probably have changed everyone's perception of what an "ethnicity" is. This will be unknown territory. Kids will not need stricture; they will need our support.

Furthermore, why should this kind of enrichment not be a source of intellectual satisfaction for us? Why could we not be filled with pride, raising critical thinkers capable of surpassing their masters (sometimes teaching us a thing or two)? Being the self-esteem junkies that we are, it seems that when it comes to parenting, we still see children as mere property. We easily tend to chose the much easier path of authority, insisting that intuitive experience equals rightness. For many, successfully raising a child still remains too closely related to how blindly one adheres to the teachings of his parents; there is no room for intellectual development. No more must we remain slaves to our ancestors' way of thinking; we can get past these apish instincts. It seems at this point quite silly that we should allow ourselves to assign so much importance to the longevity of an idea that was never to be improved upon in the first place. We should be ashamed of considering the use of bronze age methods to try and measure our parenting abilities and our children's growth.

If you made the effort of reading this blog, then you are probably not the kind of person who would just dismiss evidence without giving it at least a minimum of thought. When you open your eyes, you can feel the largeness of what you are looking at; both you and me could be wrong. When a child asks if grandma really is in heaven, it takes a lot of intellectual integrity and courage to tell the truth: that we wish we could know. Anything else we say is not based on verifiable proofs but on blind speculation. It takes courage to accept that he may not decide to think like us because it takes courage to admit that what we teach him may be wrong. Is it not because we care mostly about having children who think like us that we often display an overbearing image of certitude when confronted by them with our own ignorance? It is understandable that pride would be an important factor in getting the feeling that we have managed to raise a child successfully; it leaves me uneasy seeing how so many of us would rather just emulate the past than chose to question it.

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